Credit Unions: Money With Morals

As I close out this chapter of my blogging journey, I’d like to share this video from The Guardian that shows the vital role co-operatives play in communities.

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Where Can I Find a Co-operative?

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2012 was the International Year of the Co-operative, and its success in creating awareness of co-operatives worldwide has prompted the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) to call for a Co-op decade.  By 2020, the goal is for co-operatives to become leaders in economic, social and environmental sustainability, a preferred business model, and the fastest growing form of enterprise.  But, the ICA acknowledges that this is a strategy that they cannot move forward with alone.  They state that in order for the Co-op decade “to be meaningful and effective, it needs to be taken up and endorsed by national bodies, by individual societies, and by all people who believe in the co-operative way of doing business”.

The next decade will require “bold initiatives and clear implementation plans”.  I believe the answer will be social media.  But let’s here consider what role a mobile social media application could play in these implementation plans.

The first step in creating awareness of co-operatives will be first to alert consumers of where they can find co-operatives.  Geolocation apps will be vital to this phase of the plan.  Naturally, Foursquare, being the leading location-based social network would be the mobile social media application of choice.  With Foursquare, users can check into locations they have visited using their phones and when they do check in, they can alert their Facebook friends and Twitter followers of where they have been.  According to Brian Honigman in SocialMedia Examiner, “Foursquare is the ideal platform to bridge the gap between your offline and online audience in an affordable and scalable way”.  The opportunity for co-operatives on Foursquare is huge, but at the present it seems to be an opportunity that is largely being missed.

In my last post, I discussed how credit unions, financial co-operatives, were successfully using Facebook to spread brand awareness.  They have been early adopters of social media and as such have been out in front of other co-ops.  Many are on Foursquare, but check-ins are limited and engagement relatively low.  That extends too to food co-ops.  When I searched Foursaquare for co-operatives in NH, the only one that came up was the Concord Co-Op.  They had limited company info and only 40 check-ins from 30 people.

There are two reasons why I see co-ops as not being successful with location based services such as Foursquare.  First, they are not properly categorizing themselves.  One of the key tenets of the co-operative movement is “Co-operation among co-operatives”.  Credit Unions should categorize themselves as co-operatives, so should the Concord co-op, currently listed as Uncategorized.  This would enable interested consumers to better see how the movement is represented in their area.  The second reason, is that check-ins are not being rewarded.  Co-operatives could take a page from this successful user Bright Eyes Family Vision Care.  Despite being a non-traditional venue for check-ins (as co-operatives certainly are), the owner increased engagement and awareness by offering odd and exciting promos, such as homemade hot sauce.

If Co-operatives are to truly emerge as the fastest growing form of enterprise in this decade, they will need, first, to let people know where they are.  Foursquare, a mobile social media application, is currently the best tool for them use.

Co-operatives unite and let the check-ins begin!

Co-opting Brand Recognition for Social Change

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Social Media has proven its worth for corporations and political campaigns.   In 2012 social media was used to spectacular effect to create awareness for brands such as Obama ’12, Jetsetter, Ikea, and Sharpie.  But is Social Media’s true value merely brand awareness – where consumers passively engage with brands for the return of discounts, special offers, and campaign promises?  I believe there is a more lasting impact to be found, and that is in social media’s ability to form networks, beyond those naturally available by proximity, and thus inform users of the power and opportunity to be found within cooperatives.

Cooperatives are a natural expression of how people wish to do business. According to the International Cooperative Alliance, “A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise”.  In the past those autonomous associations were formed by proximity.  For example, my credit union, a financial cooperative was formed on the factory floor; born from a desire to provide affordable credit and to promote thrift to the mill employees of Nashua Gummed and Coated Paper Company, factory workers came together to pool their savings and create loans for those who could not otherwise afford the interest on a bank loan.  The values of coops are congruous with community and at the same time an important counterpoint to the shareholder driven business model of corporations.

Social Media provides many tools to educate, inform, and connect people with cooperatives.  Kristen Christian, a cooperatives advocate and highly effective social media thought leader, proved that Facebook was an invaluable tool to the movement when she founded Bank Transfer Day.  Created in response to the financial crises of 2008 where large shareholder owned banks burdened taxpayers on the way down with their need for bailouts, and attempted to burden consumers on the way back up with fees, Bank Transfer Day began as a Facebook event.  Individuals were encouraged to attend much like they would a friend’s birthday party.  The response was enormous and seismic.  Reports one year on stated that the event was responsible for Credit Unions netting 2.2 million members, almost double their normal growth.

Being fortunate to work for a credit union, I was introduced to Dr. Bill Branch, President & CEO of the World Council of Credit Unions.  Dr. Branch informed me of WOCCU’s efforts on Twitter (which I have been following since).  He indicated that the council saw a huge opportunity to build awareness through the micro-blogging site.  So much so, that they had tapped Charlene Li, one of the authors of Groundswell, to speak at the next World Council of Credit Unions gathering.  The pick suggests that Dr. Branch is prescient and aware of the way in which “people use technologies to get things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations” (Li pg9).

Social Media tools such as Facebook and Twitter have, in Christian’s case proven themselves, and in WOCCU’s case, surely will soon prove themselves, as valuable assets in connecting individuals in a way that transcends proximity, previously cooperatives’only tool of connection.  Great things are afoot and huge social change is imminent.

Ian – Southern New Hampshire University Grad Student

Li, Charlene.  Bernoff, Josh. (2008) Groundswell. Boston: Harvard Business Press. (pg 9).